The 5 Best Unilateral Upper Body Exercises

January 18, 2016

About the Author: Eric Bach

[ A Variation of this article Originally Appeared on]

We know a few things to be true in the fitness industry:

  1. Progressive Overload Drives results
  2. Compound barbell exercises are the best bang-for-your-buck movements to achieve progress overload for the body.
  3. Pink two-pound dumbbells with feathery tassels negatively affect serum testosterone levels. Using them may lead to spontaneous combustion.

Okay, number three may be a stretch, but there are far more unknowns that facts in the industry. As best we can, we use education and experience to drive our programming and progress forward.

As far as training ideas that are unknowns — but probably pretty damn close to right —  we have the idea that unilateral training is important.

Unilateral training is lifting with only one arm or one leg.

Problem is, we have some coaches that wrongly say unilateral training is a waste of time. Others limit their unilateral training to just the lower body, shortchanging their athletes.

In this article, I’m going to show you two things:

1. Unilateral training is pretty damn important to getting you yoked and staying injury free.

2. The top five unilateral exercises for your upper body.

At the end, you’ll leave with a better understand as to why single limb exercises make you a high-performance badass and five exercises you can implement into your next routine for real high-performance training.



Why Unilateral Training is Important

It Exposes Muscular Imbalances

How often have you been doing a squat or bench press only to find one side rising before the other? That’s a potential red flag for muscular imbalance. Single-limb exercises force you to recruit more core muscles to stabilize the spine and transfer load in ways that are neglected by bilateral lifts.

It Makes You Stronger

The maximum force you can exert bilaterally is less than the sum of two individual limbs working separately. Essentially, if you can bench press 70-pound dumbbells but get plastered by a 135-pound barbell, that’s indicative of a bilateral deficit. Whatever the cause of the deficit, if a muscle is receiving more overload with the dumbbell movement, then it’s beneficial to use exercises that do just that.

It Improves Motor Unit Recruitment

Strength is a skill that needs constant refinement. So, totally abandoning bilateral lifts for unilateral lifts isn’t a great strategy to improve the big compound movements. However, incorporating unilateral lifts into a balanced plan recruits previously untapped motor units for strength, power, and muscular development. By improving motor unit recruitment, you’ll have a greater number of muscle fibers at your disposal for your big lifts.

Ready to See the Top 5 Single Arm Exercises? Check it out here


  1. Hasan May 4, 2018 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Great article dude!

  2. Hasan May 4, 2018 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    I’ll try this next workout!

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